|Sir Malcolm Bruce|
I'll let the letter speak for itself, but it underlines the nature of the current relationship between the coalition parties, in addition to exposing the degree to which the fear of UKIP features in Conservative thinking.
Here is the letter in full:
I am writing to correct the misinformation contained in Michael Gove’s recent letter to parliamentarians, which accused the Liberal Democrats of ‘killing’ Bob Neill’s European Union (Referendum) Bill.
The claim is utterly false. The Liberal Democrats have never had any intention of preventing this Bill from being debated in the House of Commons. We do not support it – in Government we have already legislated for an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. However, we are more than happy to allow the appropriate passage of Bob Neill’s Private Members Bill, in line with standard Parliamentary procedure.
On that basis, the Liberal Democrats were happy to grant the required money resolution for Bob Neill’s Bill in return for agreement to a money resolution for Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill, as is normal practice.
What we could not accept, however, was the demand by the Conservative leadership that - in return for a money resolution for Andrew George’s Bill - both a money resolution and government time were provided for the EU (referendum) Bill. This would have been highly unusual and would not have been a like-for-like arrangement.
The only logical conclusion, therefore, is that the real block to Bob Neill’s Private Member’s Bill is the Conservative leadership, who – by creating an impossible hurdle for the Bill’s advancement through the Commons – have scuppered it and sought to lay the blame at the Liberal Democrats’ door, while distorting the potential costs of Andrew George’s bill in the process.
I can only assume that the reason they do not wish Bob Neill’s Bill to move ahead is that it’s success would be a serious electoral inconvenience to the Prime Minister and his team next May – because it removes what they believe is their best offer to disaffected Conservative voters who may otherwise be tempted to vote UKIP. One can only infer from their recent behaviour that the Prime Minister actively wants his 2017 referendum to hang in the balance come the General Election, in order to enhance his own appeal.
The risks of such short-term political tactics are an internal matter for the Conservative party. However, the Liberal Democrats will not be used as a shield between a Conservative leadership determined to avoid providing a statutory guarantee for a 2017 referendum and a Conservative backbench determined to deliver it. From our perspective, Bob Neill’s Bill remains entirely within reach – all that is required is for the Conservative Party to follow precedent: providing a money resolution for Andrew George’s Affordable Housing Bill in return for a money resolution for Bob Neill’s Bill.
You will know from your time in the Commons that this fair, equitable arrangement is always the way Private Members Bills are advanced.
Put simply, the message from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservative party is: know a fair offer when you see it, play by the rules and you will get your Bill.
This will remain our position for as long as it is possible for both Bills to proceed.
Malcolm Bruce MP
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats